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Caught in the crossfire

7 June 2019

Gosh, I haven't written a column about drones for a while... must be time!

Well actually, this one isn't about drones as much as the damage that is being done to a hobby which has safely occupied the minds and attentions of boys (and girls) of all ages, for many decades.

Yep, I'm talking about the ranks of the model-flying community which are being decimated by the increasingly oppressive levels of regulation being brought in by countries around the world in their attempts to mitigate the alleged risks associated with drones.

Now if you read the popular press you'll probably be of the opinion that drones are a constant threat to aviation and threaten the privacy of every man, woman and dog on the planet. We're constantly being told that airline pilots have had "near misses" with drones or that airports have been closed for days at a time due to reckless fools flying these things over runways.

You'll also believe that nobody is safe going outside in anything but a burqua, for fear of having their naked body-parts captured on high-definition video by a drone waiting in eager anticipation of their presence.

I suspect that most Aardvark readers are not so dim-witted as to believe all that they read in the media and will have a more balanced and informed view of exactly what drones are, what they do and the risks they may (or may not) pose.

Sadly however, it seems that those who make the regulations in respect to aviation (and therefore "drones") are fans of the popular media and also, in far too many cases, are both stupid and easily bullied by their political overlords.

For example, the rules in Canada were recently updated and it is very clear that those responsible simply took a huge chunk of regulation that applies to "real aircraft -- with people onboard" and applied it not only to those white drones with four propellers that we're all so familiar with -- but also to model aircraft.

People with model aircraft will now have to keep comprehensive flight logs (detailing not only the time/date of each flight but also the names of anyone else who was part of the "operation"). These logs will have to be kept for a period of no less than 12 months and presented "on demand" to the regulator or their appointed agents (aka: the Royal Canadian Mounted Police).

Failure to keep those flight logs could cost the hapless offender a $1,000 fine.

Maintenance logs are also required -- so that if your toy plane needs a dab of glue or some other "fixin" then you have to notarise that as well -- including the number/description of any parts used and copies of the instructions used when undertaking the repairs.

I kid you not... this is true! How will kids manage?

Oh, I forgot... kids won't have to worry because in Canada you now have to be at least 14 years of age to fly a toy plane without supervision and you must also sit and pass a very complicated online exam that quizzes you about the effects of salt water, identifying weather patterns, reading maps and other stuff that really seems to have little relevance to someone just wanting to have a bit of fun on a Sunday afternoon with a $99 toy plane in a grassy field, miles from anywhere.

Now the same thing is about to happen in the UK where model fliers are outraged that they're also going to be lumped with exams, registration fees and an onerous regulatory burden.

Later in the year, Australian drone and model fliers will face a similar registration/exam/age restriction and it's only a matter of time before New Zealand follows suit.

Now while it might (and I emphasize "might") be possible to raise a case in support of ensuring that newbies who've just bought a new fully-automated camera drone from Noel Leeming ought to be required to show a minimal level of awareness of the rules before they're able to go out and demonstrate their incompetence in public places, there's absolutely no justification for imposing a raft of draconian restrictions on the hobby of model-flying which has proven itself to be the domain of safe, responsible fliers for so many years.

You see, the big problem is that those making these rules are often completely ignorant of that which they seen to control.

When was the last time you heard of airliners having a "near miss" with a scale model of a Piper Cub? Or the last time someone bitched about a model Spitfire menacing them around the pool in their back yard?

This sort of thing just doesn't happen -- because (and this is something that the regulators can't seem to get their heads around), radio controlled model aircraft ARE NOT DRONES.

I mean, seriously, if a group of people can't tell the difference between a DJI Phantom (which is white, has four propellers and a camera slung beneath it) and a model of the WW2 Spitfire fighter aircraft (which has just one propeller, can't "hover" and carries no HD camera) -- then are those people "fit and proper persons" to make such regulations?

I think not.

Those who do not understand the problem can not come up with a solution.

And sadly, at least here in New Zealand (as *was* the case in the UK), the CAA themselves do understand the folly of such things as forcing all drone/model fliers to register themselves and their craft.

CAA NZ have themselves stated that registration would serve no purpose -- so you'd think that this would be an end to the matter, right?

Well it's not. That's because even though there are *some* smart people in CAA, ultimately we have a bunch of wooden-headed politicians in command and they do read The Daily Mail and other popular media whose agenda has been to vilify drones.

As a result, when CAA NZ told the politicians "registration is pointless", the wooden-heads simply said "well if you won't support registration, we'll hand the issue over to The Ministry of Transport and simply tell them to do it".

Which is what appears to be happening right now, here in Godzone and also seems to be the case in the UK.

Here in NZ, behind closed doors in soto voice, civil servants, bureaucrats and delegates from those who also stand to gain by the harsh regulation/restriction of this new technology are conjuring up all sorts of new rules, regulations, registrations and constraints on the freedoms of Kiwi model and drone fliers.

And, as you'd expect from such a gathering driven by political and self-interest, there is far from reasonable representation. Figures have shown that over 90% of all the "drone" activity in NZ is recreational -- yet the recreational community get just one seat at the table -- whilst airline pilots, commercial interests and others get massive representation.

I guess the concept of a proportional representation being an essential part of any democratic process is totally lost on these people.

And, if you look at the minutes of such meetings you'll see significant levels of redaction. Why? What is being hidden and why are even the names of some being redacted? Is it because it would clearly show the levels of self-interest and commercial involvement in creating what should be regulations based solely on issues of safety?

Perhaps to further show how utterly crazy this whole regulation of drones/RC-models thing really is, Canada has decided that although it now has some of the most draconian restrictions on models/drones weighing 250g and more, it has completely removed all prescriptive regulation for craft that weigh less than 250g. As if by magic, the addition of just a single gram can turn what is obviously (to the regulator) a completely harmless child's toy into a craft that requires registration, pilot certification, flight and maintenance logs along with huge restrictions as to where/when it can be flown.

As I said... the people making these regulations are idiots and when they can't find any idiots within the ranks of the official aviation regulator they simply hand the task over to another government agency with a surplus of such people.

If you want to see how crazy the Canadian regulations have now become, take a look at this video I posted to YouTube.

If you want to see how crazy the NZ regulations are going to be... just wait. As the airline pilots association is so quick to say "it's only a matter of time".

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